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CDC: Flu Now at Epidemic Levels; Interview With Rep. Jan Schakowsky; Paid Sick Leave Promotes Healthier Economy & Workforce

Aired January 11, 2013 - 08:00   ET



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Our STARTING POINT this morning a severe flu outbreak is spreading, dozens have been killed, hundreds of people hospitalized. This morning new numbers show there might be relief in sight.

Clashing over gun violence, the Vice President Biden meets with the NRA and it doesn't go so well. Can they find a solution to stop gun violence?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This year's graduates have a new reason to smile. Why they're expected to earn more money even though it's a tough job market.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR, "EARLY START": He is a school hero. How this school teacher helped convince a school shooter to put the gun down.

O'BRIEN: Coming up this hour, CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, will join us. Dr. Anthony Fauci from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.

And singer T-Boz of TLC fame. She's got a new reality show. We're going to talk about that.

It's Friday, January 11th -- and STARTING POINT starts right now.


O'BRIEN: "Scrubs" and her intro, I love that song. We could sing along with it.

ABBY HUNTSMAN, HOST, HUFFPOST LIVE: Don't make me sing this morning.

O'BRIEN: Come on, Abby, do it.

Our team this morning: Chris Frates is reporter for "National Journal". Abby Huntsman who's going to sing "Scrubs" later this morning.

HUNTSMAN: Stay tuned.

O'BRIEN: Host of "HuffPost Live".

Bill Burton is with us, senior strategist for Priorities USA Action. Co-host of "EARLY START," John Berman is with us.

Nice to have you all with us.

Let's talk about the flu a little bit because tons of people are sick, it's taken the country by storm, landed thousands of people in hospital, being blamed for dozens of deaths. The CDC is going to be out with some new flu numbers this morning and CNN's medical unit getting an early look at some of those the numbers. They suggest some activity might be going down a bit.

Chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, joins us from Atlanta. So, what do we expect to hear from the CDC later this morning?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You know, Elizabeth Cohen has been working the numbers overnight. We do expect something that we've sort of been thinking about for sometime, that the widespread nature of this flu has grown from 41 to 47 states. We sort of knew that was going to happen. That means how many different places within a state are actually documenting flu.

But the good news in this, I think, is of 29 states before that were reporting high levels of flu activity, it's down to 24 states now. So at least in a little bit of relief there potentially as you say, Soledad.

You know, they're calling it an epidemic, which basically means that we're seeing more cases than they would otherwise expect at this time of year. Last year, it was a mild season. This has been one is the worst in a decade.

So, some potentially good news in there, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Enough of the vaccine to go around. Every year, I know -- often, we have concerns about the fact that there's a run on the vaccine and maybe not enough people will get access to it.

GUPTA: Right. And we're telling everyone to get a flu shot and here we are hoping there is enough. And it looks like there is.

To show you some numbers here to give you a sort of look at the country. While there may be some spot shortages in various areas, we know about 135 million doses were actually manufactured, 128 million doses were distributed, and -- but look at the bottom number, 112 million people vaccinated which is actually pretty good. You know, you'd like to see it higher by this time early, you know, certainly, by, you know, this time or early February.

But there should be 60 million doses in pharmacies and another 7 million ready to go and there's a few hundred thousand doses of the flu mist, the nasal spray that's out there.

O'BRIEN: All right. Sanjay, thanks very much. If you need more information on this, of course, tune in this week to CNN for the very latest on the flu outbreak on "SANJAY GUPTA, M.D." You can follow and see what's happening there.

Also, I spoke with Dr. Anthony Fauci this morning. He's the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health. He's calling this an epidemic. Here's what he told me.


O'BRIEN: The volume of people getting the flu is going down but it exists in more states. Is this an indication the flu season overall is going to be very bad or is it an indication that it might be less bad than predicted?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: You know, Soledad, I think at this point when you see numbers from one week to another change that way, it's very difficult to predict what the trend is going to be. It's always nice to see a tick go down, just the way early on when we saw the early tick go up in early December.

But just on the basis of one report from a weekly surveillance, I think we need to withhold judgment as to what the ultimate outcome is going to be when we get to the end of this flu season. So it's always nice to see cases go down, but we've got to be really careful because we are really still in the middle of an outbreak.

O'BRIEN: Why? I mean, we've heard that the match for the vaccine to the virus strain is actually better. You know, it would make you think the numbers should be going down. Many -- fewer people should be getting the flu.

FAUCI: Yes, I think what we need to appreciate is even the best of vaccines with influenza are certainly not anywhere near 100 percent or even 90 percent. There's a considerable degree of variability of effectiveness of a vaccine. If you go back and look historically when you have a good match, you can have an efficacy of the vaccine somewhere between 60 percent, 65 percent or maybe up to 70 percent.

Older people do not do nearly as well and the efficacy of the vaccine sometimes is as down as 50 percent. Very young, otherwise healthy people tend to have a good effect of the vaccine.

O'BRIEN: So how do I make sure or at least keep myself from getting sick? Is it about tons of Purell? Is it about washing your hands? Is it about leaving your office when you can? What is the best thing to do?

FAUCI: Right. Well, it's the combination of two things, Soledad. It's the personal hygiene and being careful about your environment. That's one way to do it.

The other way is to get vaccinated. So, for example, when you see people who are sneezing and coughing, just try to avoid that and not get into crowded places where people are sneezing and coughing or whatever.

Washing your hands is critical. People don't fully appreciate that if you have someone --

O'BRIEN: Better than Purell?

FAUCI: Well, you know, there's always the argument about Purell or not. You could use Purell. It's not going to hurt you. It's just the washing of the hands is really important.

And people don't realize for example if someone has the flu, and they go like that and sneeze or cough, the virus is on their hand. They shake hands with you, you feel perfectly well, and then you touch your face, your eyes, your nose or your mouth, and that's how you get it.

So, as best as possible wash your hands frequently, avoid situations where there are people who are sneezing and coughing all over you but most of all get vaccinated.

O'BRIEN: And stop shaking hands with people clearly. I'm going to do that. I got too many kids. I get them vaccinated. I get everybody vaccinated every single year. I cannot get sick. I am way too busy.

Dr. Fauci, always nice to have you with us. Appreciate it.

FAUCI: Same here, thanks.


O'BRIEN: I'm not trying to be hard, but people with a flu, especially those who come to the office --


O'BRIEN: I know, I know. It sounds cruel, but, really, I'm like take the day, take the week, take care of yourself and get better before you infect everyone.

BERMAN: Step away from me now.

O'BRIEN: And my four small children in elementary school who I have colleagues also we can spread this disease, we're going to stop it.

HUNTSMAN: How do you avoid it?

O'BRIEN: Purell.

HUNTSMAN: People that are not covered part-time are not going to take work off.

O'BRIEN: Purell yourself, the table.

BERMAN: You see people with face masks in the subway, they do it to protect themselves and makes me run in the other direction.

O'BRIEN: Purell, I'm telling you.

Go ahead. What you got?

BERMAN: All right. We do have some other news today.

Vice President Joe Biden's gun control task force will deliver its recommendation to President Obama by Tuesday. That's pretty fast. Today, he meets with representatives of the video game industry. So far, he's met with the NRA and other gun advocate groups. The NRA called the meeting, quote, "an agenda to attack the Second Amendment."

The 16-year-old who opened fire and critically wounded a high school classmate claimed he was bullied. Investigators he was targeting two boys at Taft High School in Bakersfield, California. They say he shot a second round as students escaped yesterday but missed. The local sheriff is investigating reports that the suspect got a hit list.

Teacher Ryan Heber and campus supervisor Kim Lee Fields are getting high praise for convincing the shooter to put his shotgun down. Heber's father told a local station his son is going to be OK.


DAVID HEBER, HEROIC TEACHER'S FATHER: My son is going to be all right. But the community is probably going to think about him much -- I mean, the other students are the ones that probably are going to be affected the most. My son will always be affected, but he handles things well.


BERMAN: For now, the suspect will be charged as a juvenile with attempted murder. It will be up to prosecutors to decide if he will be charged as an adult.

James Holmes will be tried for murder in the Colorado movie theater rampage. That ruling from the judge who presided over his three-day evidence hearing this week. Holmes is going to be arraigned on 166 counts connected to the massacre, including first-degree murder. He's accused of opening fire inside an Aurora, Colorado, theater last July, killing 12 people and wounding dozens of others. The murder charges could carry the death penalties.

So, we have some good news about those killer whales that were stuck in an ice hole in Canada. Looks like Mother Nature helped solve the problem. Authorities say the shifting wind patterns overnight broke up the ice which hopefully allowed the 11 whales to swim free. They have not been seen now since Wednesday.

All right. A lot of people are talking about this, this morning. Take a look at this new portrait of the duchess of Cambridge. It was painted by the artist Paul Emsley and unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. The royal couple arrived this morning to view it and Prince William called it beautiful.

But, I have to say, you know, it is getting criticism because some people suggest it doesn't exactly make Catherine look all that great. To me, it makes her look older than she is. She has bags under her eyes.

The painter said it was simply hard to paint her beauty.

O'BRIEN: She's a beautiful woman and maybe --

BERMAN: But she's not a 40-year-old woman and that's what she looks like in that picture.

HUNTSMAN: So when she is 40 --


BERMAN: She'll grow into it.

O'BRIEN: Just for the record, when I get something painted of me, I'd like it to reflect younger, not you when you're 70.

Yes, I think she's prettier than that picture. She's a beautiful woman.

BERMAN: I agree.

O'BRIEN: Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning: the vice president expected to present the president with his recommendations to prevent gun violence. Up next, we'll talk with Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. She's on the gun prevention task force for the House.

And T-Boz from TLC is going to join us. She's got a new reality show she says it's even more serious than her real life. We'll talk about that, straight ahead.


O'BRIEN: Showdown in Washington, D.C.

Vice President Joe Biden now is saying that he's going to deliver recommendations to the president on gun control on Tuesday, and it comes after the meeting with groups like the NRA and the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Here is the vice president laying out a preview of what he's planning to recommend.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's an emerging set of recommendations not coming from me but coming from the groups we've met with. One is there is a surprising, so far, a surprising recurrence of suggestions that we have universal background checks, not just close the gun show loophole but total universal background checks, including private sales.


O'BRIEN: Well, the NRA doesn't support that. They say the whole meeting in fact was an attack on the Second Amendment.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky is a Democrat from the stat of Illinois. Nice to have you with us this morning.

The NRA --


O'BRIEN: Pleasure.

The NRA said post-meeting, "We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment." So, it didn't sound coming out of the meeting like there was much progress.

What do you think the solution is that brings in all these disparate groups who are on different sides of the issue, sometimes completely contradictory sides, in a way that will actually make some progress? Or is it just not doable?

SCHAKOWSKY: First of all, Soledad, there are children getting ready to go to school in Chicago, my city, who are worrying about getting shot. That happens every day in the city of Chicago. And what about the rights of children, of families to live in a safe community? So that's the right that I'm most concerned about, but it is not consistent -- inconsistent with the Second Amendment.

And so I believe that there is this growing consensus. Your CNN poll showed that 95 percent of people, and that really includes about 90 percent of gun owners, believe that there ought to be universal background checks. So the vice president is right. All the data is showing that.

And so, you know, there are new players on the field right now. We've got the White House fully engaged. We have mayors against illegal guns and --

O'BRIEN: And you have some old players.

SCHAKOWSKY: Bloomberg in New York.

O'BRIEN: Like the NRA. And so, I guess, let's take a look at Chicago, your city. What would the solution there be that would bring down what is an insanely high murder rate in that city from 2012 and is already on track two weeks into the year to be a very high murder rate in that city? What is the solution, in your mind?

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, there's no question that universal background checks would be very, very important, so that people -- you know that 40 percent of the guns that are purchased are purchased without such a background check, through private dealers, through gun shows. If they had to get a background check, we could eliminate some of those purchases.

Clearly, these large capacity ammunition clips, the assault magazines, if we were to eliminate those, that would help. We're moving away from guns that we used to know about to these powerful military-style weapons. CHRIS FRATES, REPORTER, NATIONAL JOURNAL: Representative --

SCHAKOWSKY: And we can do something to reduce that.

FRATES: Representative, Chris Frates here. I wonder, when the vice president spoke yesterday, he didn't mention a ban on assault rifles. And I wonder, are you reading into that at all? I mean, is that going to be too politically difficult? Are we taking it off the table before we start?

SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I don't think so. Certainly, the president had mentioned that reinstatement of the assault weapons ban was one of his priorities. But you know, even data collection, it's incredible that the NRA has prevented even the Centers for Disease Control from collecting the kind of data we need in order to be able to monitor the kind of violence that we're seeing in our communities.

And so I think -- and the vice president has met with Hollywood and with the video game people and dealing with mental health. So there are many solutions, but the tragedy is not doing anything, and that's what it seems that the NRA is about.

BILL BURTON, SENIOR STRATEGIST, PRIORITIES USA ACTION: Congresswoman, hey, it's Bill Burton, hope you're well. Are there any Republicans in the House that you think there's hope for working with?

SCHAKOWSKY: I'm not hearing anything.

O'BRIEN: I'll ask the question. I don't know if you can still hear me. Bill was asking, are there Republicans in the House -- I don't know if she can hear us. You know what, I think we're having -- I think she's just lost her audio. We'll see if we can fix it and we'll keep having that conversation going.

HUNTSMAN: -- because we talk a lot about what needs to be done, but what can actually be done. You know, there are 50 to 75 members -- Republican members in the House that are very likely not going to vote in that direction.

O'BRIEN: And she's in the House, the Democratic caucus on gun violence. Is it ridiculous to have a Democratic caucus on gun violence and a Republican -- I don't know if there is one, but not have one that just encompasses everybody, right, because it's not going to be a solution from one party.

BURTON: I don't think that there's Republicans who are willing to join such a caucus. You know, when you talk about gun safety, there's not a lot of Republicans who are signing up for it. You see a lot of Democrats even from conservative areas like Joe Manchin.


O'BRIEN: -- so, let's pose that question to you. Bill, you want to ask her again?

BURTON: Sure. Hey there, Congresswoman. It's Bill Burton. I was just asking, do you think there's any hope for Republicans who you can work with in the House in order to get anything done? What do you think that there are Republicans -- what do you think that any Republicans might support at all?

SCHAKOWSKY: I actually do think, because of the new Super-PAC that Gabby Giffords and her husband and of course, they are gun owners. They've been NRA members. We have a new political reality out there, and I think that there's a mobilization of Americans like we've never seen before and that's going to include the sportsmen and it's going to include the gun owners that are saying we can do better to protect our communities and to protect the Second Amendment.

So, I think, politically, we're going to see some of those members and areas that have been with the NRA saying -- taking another look and saying, "Am I going to be hearing from people in my community, from my voters that are saying, no, we have to make some sensible changes now?" I think that can happen.

O'BRIEN: Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. She's Democrat from Illinois. Nice to talk to you.

SCHAKOWSKY: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate your time this morning. Sorry about those audio problems.

SCHAKOWSKY: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: So, should hourly employees get paid sick leave? Would it make you and the economy healthier? We'll talk about the debate that's going on in the middle of this flu outbreak. That's coming up next.


O'BRIEN: "Tough Call" this morning, the New York City comptroller, John Liu, has been an advocate of paid sick leave for hourly and part- time workers who are fast going sick into the workforce. He says the severe flu outbreak happen right now highlights that need.

Workers without paid sick days are more likely to report to work when they're sick and then spread those germs which I dislike immensely. Liu also says that people who have to work when they're sick are less productive and they put the health and the economy at risk.

And in all seriousness, there are plenty of people who worry a lot about losing their jobs and they just cannot call in sick because, you know -- we've been joking about sort of not liking sick people around us, but for whom their job is their source of income. And if they don't go in, they're very likely to be fired.

HUNTSMAN: And this is part of the reason we have an epidemic because people are going to work. (INAUDIBLE) you go get a coffee and the person that's making it, you're sniffling next to me. I don't know if you should be here.

O'BRIEN: Why are you here?


BURTON: I'm allergic to something on the set.

O'BRIEN: Oh, the allergies.



HUNTSMAN: It's probably me. You know, it's interesting. Back in 1960, you know, companies, every company provided health insurance, whether you were a part-time or full time, because health care was only two percent of the GDP. Today, it's, you know, 18 to 20 percent.

O'BRIEN: And culturally, there was not a sense of go in at all costs, no matter what. I mean, remember people used to -- I remember even for school, your parents would say, oh, you're a little warm, stay in bed and you would just, you know, that would be that.

BURTON: Your house was different than mine.


O'BRIEN: I wasn't faking is why. I wasn't faking. It's different times.

HUNTSMAN: But don't you think states will get to the point where they have to find another alternative for people in this type of situation to be able to afford it?

FRATES: Well, I think it's going to be interesting next year when the health exchanges come online from President Obama's health care reform and you are able to cover more part-time workers. They're able to buy into these exchanges.

Does that change the dynamic and will that be something that in five years from now, you know, we'll say, oh, we were sitting around the table before that went in and folks were going to work, and now, they feel like, you know, they had the care and they can go get it, and you know, maybe the culture will change a little bit where you can actually stay home as well.

BERMAN: Doesn't mean they get paid, though. It means they have health insurance, it doesn't mean they get paid. And what people are worried about -- you talk to construction workers, you know, the hourly workers of all kinds, they're just worried about losing their jobs.


BURTON: These two are different arguments. I mean, this is why health care reform is so important, because if our country is healthier in general, if people can get preventative medicine, if they can go to the doctor when they're sick, then these outbreaks will not be as widespread, and you know, that's I think going to be a big difference with health care reform.

O'BRIEN: Well, it is a serious issue for folks who are sick. But if you're sick, you shouldn't be here, seriously.


O'BRIEN: We love having you, Bill, but I'm glad you're over there on that end of the table.

HUNTSMAN: At least you're not sitting next to him like me.


O'BRIEN: -- I'm going to get you some.

Ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, when Lance Armstrong sits down with Oprah, many folks are predicting that he is going to come clean, if you will, about his doping accusations. Does he need to confess? He wants to move on with his career and his life. We're going to talk about that.

And a new warning about a popular sleeping aid for certain folks. We'll tell you why the FDA is recommending changes to Ambien.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. You're watching STARTING POINT. We begin with John Berman who has an update on the day's top stories. Hey, John.

BERMAN: Thanks, Soledad.

The FAA says it will conduct a comprehensive review of Boeing 787 Dreamliner after a number of safety incidents this week involving the super jumbo aircraft. They'll hold a news conference an hour from now. The jets were grounded three times in three days and two more incidents were reported overnight in Japan.

Boeing insists the Dreamliner is safe to fly dismissing the mishaps in mechanical issues on flights this week as what they call growing pains for any new plane.

South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, with a teary goodbye to their husband. She and her two kids won't see him for another year. Michael Haley and other members of his National Guard unit are shipping out to Afghanistan. He's going to be helping Afghan farmers with their crops. He's a captain.